Magnus Eze, Enugu and Wilson Okereke, Afikpo
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) last week said that 102 local government areas in 28 states in the country were within highly probable flood risk areas this year.
Director-general of the agency, AVM Muhammadu Mohammed, who raised the alert at a news conference on the agency’s plan for the “2020 flood preparedness, mitigation and response,” in Abuja, also noted that 275 local government areas across the 36 states of the country, including the FCT, also fell within the moderately probable flood risk areas. He said the remaining 397 LGAs, however, fell within the low probable flood risk areas.
In the South-East, Anambra, Enugu, Imo and Abia states have already been warned to brace up for more flooding this year. NEMA has written to the respective state governments, indicating the LGAs that may be affected by floods and also suggested proactive mitigation measures that should be taken.
In the past three weeks, devastating floods were already having impacts on various sectors of life in Ebonyi State, including agriculture, water resources, health, transport and infrastructure.
Recently, an overflow of water from Ebiya/Ebonyi River, due to excessive rainfall experienced in Abakaliki, displaced more than 500 persons and destroyed property worth millions of naira in Unagboke, Inyimagu Azugwu community, Ebonyi State.
One of the victims, James Nwankwegu, claimed that the destructive flood was remotely caused by the channelisation work that was abruptly abandoned halfway by the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP).
Nwankwegu said, initially, the construction was progressing rapidly after the only waterway had been obstructed by creating a structure like dam. He noted that the officials suddenly transferred their equipment to a new site close to the Rice Mill axis without either completing the work or making provisions for a free flow of water. He recalled that, on the fateful day, when the great quantity of water could not flow freely after a heavy downpour because of the blockage, the flood then crossed the embankment, submerged the entire village and destroyed a lot of property.
“Before now, we had not encountered this level of havoc, until after NEWMAP workers had gone out of our area, leaving the river obstructed. And owing to the situation of the village presently, if we could be displaced by flood in the month of June, what will be our fate at the climax of the rainfall?” he queried.
The village head, Elder Emmanuel Igwe, appealed to government to come to the people’s rescue by mandating the completion of the dredging or, as a matter of urgency, unblocking the waterway to forestall a recurrence.
He said the crops planted in the community, including yam, rice, water yam, cocoyam, maize and others, were utterly destroyed by the flood, while household items were not spared.
Another victim, a widow, Mrs. Eucharia Ego Chikezie, said the problem had subjected her to severe hardship as she lost over 100 fowls in her poultry during the flooding.
“When this flood came for the first time, it swept away my chickens, numbering 102. And as I was trying to recover from the shock, another one struck and damaged all the valuables in my house, including documents,” she said.
If not for people’s intervention, she further disclosed, her car would have been swept away by the same flood. Even before it could be saved, the interior had been damaged.
A resident of the area, Vincent Odo, and other members of the community called on the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) for assistance over their enormous losses. They also urged NEWMAP to complete the project.
It was discovered that some of the victims were formerly natives of Agbaja Unuhu village who relocated to the flooded area after they were displaced by the Ebonyi State government during the construction of the Centenary City housing the mega state secretariat, new Government House and other public and private establishments.
Many of the victims were still taking refuge within the neighbourhood pending when their flooded houses would dry up when Daily Sun visited the area.
Efforts to speak with the state coordinator of NEWMAP were unsuccessful, as he did not respond to text messages.
In the southern part of the state, people of Akaeze, in Ivo Local Government Area, are still counting their losses. A relentless two-day downpour two weeks ago destroyed their crops, with many farmers trapped in the farms for over 72 hours.
An indigene of Iyioji, Akaeze, told Daily Sun that communities sent search parties consisting mainly youths to rescue some of the affected persons. It was gathered that Akaeze Ukwu community was the most badly affected. No fewer than five buildings were pulled down with household items and domestic animals washed away at Ngele Ude’s compound alone.
Displaced persons took refuge at the homes of relations in safer areas while neither the SEMA nor NEMA had visited the area as at the time the reporters visited the town.
The most devastating cases were witnessed in Ameachera in Ezeke community of Amasiri in Afikpo North Local Government Area. There, the flood sacked more than 2,500 residents and destroyed property worth millions of naira, alongside farms and livestock.
The scenario was very pathetic. Personal belongings were trapped in the houses and residents ran to safety while also saving their children from drowning in the flood.
A resident of the community, Ogbonnaya Mbe, explained that, like their Akaeze counterparts, youths in the community mobilised and assisted the victims, to ensure that the flood did not destroy most of their documents and other valuables.
He added that youths also assisted in scooping water from the houses of some of the victims while aothers watched helplessly as the flood continued to surge into the buildings. Shops and markets in the community, including buildings housing churches and religious centres, were also affected.
Mbe explained that the Amasiri incident posed a possible humanitarian challenge, given the extent of devastation of livelihoods. He said farmlands stretching more than two kilometres were submerged by flood while the more than 2,500 displaced persons took refuge with other family members who were not affected.
He attributed the flooding to lack of drainage system in the community, the numerous mining activities going on in the place and the hilly nature of the area. In his words, floodwater usually runs down from the hills, causing damage to houses. Though no life was lost, he lamented that people in the area were going through pain and hardship on account of the complete destruction of their household appliances, livestock and farmlands.
Daily Sun further gathered that flooding had become a perennial feature in the area, forcing many residents to abandon their houses to rent or erect structures in other places.
Mbe lamented that “it is no longer something that should not be expected yearly because it has become a regular occurrence. We had expected that the relevant authorities would have opened up the drainage in the community for the water to have a channel.”
“Though the area is flood-prone, the damage it caused in the community was so much. It’s one of the biggest flooding we have experienced in recent times. The flood affected mostly the people of Amaechera village in Ezeke community.
“Unfortunately, that’s where we have our farmlands and our livestock. The idea of donating rice and cash to the displaced persons each time the flood occurs without addressing the main problem of opening up the place for water to find its level doesn’t solve the problem,” he insisted.
One of the victims, Mr. Emmanuel Okonba, also asked the authorities to find a lasting solution and save them the pains.
“When you go round the community, you will weep for the people. The more you try to stop the flood from entering the houses, the more it comes heavier. We seriously need assistance. It is a natural disaster and we didn’t know it will cause this level of havoc.
“I must commend the people because they were of great help to us as they mobilised themselves to assist us to save some of our property.”
Coordinator of Amasiri Development Centre, Mrs. Ngozi Chika Ezeugo, said the centre had taken inventory of all the properties, households, farmlands and livestock destroyed by the flood and written to the SEMA seeking assistance for the affected persons.
She expressed optimism that the state government would soon proffer a lasting solution to the problem and urged the people to remain calm.
Meanwhile, the lawmaker representing Afikpo North/South Federal Constituency of Ebonyi State at the House of Representatives, Chief Idu Igariwey, had cried out to the NEMA for help following the devastating flooding in Amasiri communities within his constituency.
Igariwey, who is the vice chairman, House Committee on Appropriations, sympathised with the affected families and the communities, while thanking God that no life was lost.
He stated that in addition to his call to NEMA, he would also take up the issue of destructive flooding in his constituency with the Federal Ministry of Works to ensure that it was captured in the 2021 budget as part of his constituency projects.
He said he had also contacted the headquarters of NEMA which directed the zonal officer in charge of the South-East to immediately carry out an assessment of the damage caused by the flooding.
Igariwey indicated that the on-the-spot assessment by NEMA was done on June 30.
“Hopefully, this should be the first step towards any emergency relief response from the Federal Government.
“For the long term, I intend to take up the issue of seasonal destructive flooding with the Federal Ministry of Works. This will also be captured in the 2021 Federal Budget as part of my constituency project,” he said.